Thursday, July 28, 2011


My first exposure to Captain America was in the form of those wonderfully limited animated cartoons from 1966. The cartoons, which were actually photocopied images taken directly from the comics, were terrible animation, but they were my first exposure to the Mighty Marvel Superheroes: Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, The Invincible Iron Man, The Mighty Thor and Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner. In 1967, Spiderman and the Fantastic Four would get their own Saturday morning cartoons and that would eventually lead me to buying my first issues of Spiderman and The Fantastic Four. It would be a few years before I could afford to buy more Marvel comics with my limited allowance money, but I definitely bought the characters that I remembered from those early cartoons: The Incredible Hulk, The Invincible Iron Man, The Mighty Thor and of course Captain America!
Captain America has had a rough time of it in cinema. Cap’s first cinematic incarnation was the 1944 Republic serial and dealt with Captain America trying to thwart the plans of The Scarab in his attempts to acquire the "Dynamic Vibrator" and "Electronic Firebolt" which were devices that could be used as super-weapons. Other than the previously mentioned cartoons, Captain America wouldn’t appear on-screen again until he emerged in two TV movies on CBS: Captain America, which aired January 19, 1979, and Captain America II: Death Too Soon, which aired November 23, 1979.  Both starred Reb Brown in the title role and placed Steve Rogers in then contemporary times with a completely different origin and modus operandi.
Captain America was to make his feature film debut in 1990 starring Matt Salinger as Captain America and Scott Paulin as The Red Skull with direction by Albert Pyun. This film featured Steve Rogers becoming Captain America during World War II to battle the Red Skull and being frozen in ice, to be subsequently revived in 1990 to save the President of the United States from a crime family that dislikes his environmentalist polices. The film was planned for release in the summer of 1990, but after several release dates were announced between fall 1990 and winter 1991 the film still went unreleased for two years before debuting direct to video and on cable television in the United States in the summer of 1992. Of all the screen versions of Captain America, this was the most loyal to the source material, but its limited budget didn’t make it look much better than the 1970’s TV movies.
Finally, this summer saw the release of two of Marvel’s superheroes Thor and Captain America. Marvel Studios has been building up to the upcoming release of The Avengers next year since the first Iron Man film was released in 2008. The Avengers will feature not only Captain America and Thor, but Iron Man and the Hulk as well. I loved the two Iron Man films and enjoyed Thor as well, so my expectations for Captain America: The First Avenger were fairly high. I was not disappointed.
Captain America: The First Avenger is set in 1942, just as America is entering World War II. Steve Rogers is a skinny kid who is determined to enlist in the military. Unfortunately, he is listed as 4F until a mysterious Dr. Erksine sees the kid and ensures that Steve passes his exam, so that he can enter his Project Rebirth program. Proving his intelligence, guts and sheer determination, Dr. Erksine chooses Steve to be subjected to the massive injections of the super soldier serum he created. Steve is transformed into a perfect physical specimen, but just as he is emerging from the lab, Dr. Erksine is murdered by a HYDRA agent and Steve becomes the only super soldier. The government doesn’t want to risk Steve in combat, so he is relegated to performing as “Captain America” in USO shows stateside to sell war bonds. While on a tour overseas, Steve finds out that his old friend James “Bucky” Barnes has been captured by HDYRA during a secret mission to find the headquarters of the Red Skull. The leader of HYDRA, the Red Skull had worked for Hitler as a scientific research division, but on gaining enough military strength on his own, decides to use the war as a means to establishing himself as the absolute ruler of the world! Donning an altered version of his Captain America costume, Steve Rogers races off to face the Red Skull and stop him before it too late!
Joe Johnson was the perfect director for Captain America, as he had also directed one of my favorite comic book film adaptations: The Rocketeer. Captain America takes its time to establish the wartime setting, getting all the visual details of New York circa 1942 just right. Chris Evans as the spindly Steve Rogers (done with some fine digital trickery) is just as convincing as when he eventually becomes Captain America. I think because so much effort is put into the pre super-heroic Steve Rogers, that when he eventually dons the Red-white-and-blue uniform, we are really pulling for him on several levels. Hugo Weaving does a fine job of playing the Red Skull with just enough panache that his evil plans seem almost justified. The whole supporting cast, from Haley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Philips, to Sebastian Stan as ‘Bucky’ Barnes, get the most out of their minimal screen time. There are also some cool moments in the film that only a Marvel Comics fan or a comic book historian would notice. When Captain America is doing his USO tour, he is given a badge-shaped shield, instead of the circular shield that the character is most identified with. The "badge" shield is the shield that Captain America only used for the very first issue of the Captain America comic that was published in March of 1941. Among a group of soldiers that Captain America attacks the Red Skull's fortress with are Timothy "Dum Dum" Dugan and Gabe Jones. These are two of the soldiers that appeared in the WWII comic first published by Marvel in 1963 entitled Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos.
Once the battle between Captain America and the Red Skull starts, the action is almost nonstop! I particularly liked the retro-high tech weapons used by the Red Skull and his HYDRA minions. From ray-cannon tanks to underwater jets, there is enough gadgetry to keep any super-science geek happy. Captain America, despite his super strength and agility, is still quite believable on screen, as it seems most of the stunts were done live action whenever possible. As good as modern CGI is it is no substitute to for real actors and stunt people doing their thing.
As with all the other recent Marvel films, if you stay to the end of the credits you are treated to a sneak peek of The Avengers film that is being released next summer. This is being directed by Joss Whedon, who also wrote the script and I for one can’t wait for it!
Any fan of the superhero genre, or period action films, should enjoy Captain America: The First Avenger. As a first adventure of Captain America it is indeed first rate!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I have been looking forward to this film since I saw the first teaser trailer last year! I loved director Jon Favreau's Iron Man films! Casting Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig together in a sci-fi western mash up is almost too good to be true! I'll be seeing Cowboys  and Aliens this Saturday and I'll try to post a review the next day.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


After the recent failed attempts of the superhero shows The Cape and No Ordinary Family, I had very low expectations for SYFY’s new TV program Alphas [Mondays @ 10pm]. The only mistake SYFY has made thus far is labeling Alphas a superhero show in the first place. One of the creators of Alphas, Zak Penn, whose resume includes writing the superhero screenplays for The Incredible Hulk, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Elektra, has made a very conscious effort to make the abilities of each of the Alphas as scientifically believable as possible. As each of the Alphas is introduced, their abilities – not superpowers – are explained and demonstrated, using visual effects to help make the explanation even clearer. Each of the Alphas abilities even has a drawback or weakness, which I think helps add to the realism as well.
Unlike traditional superheroes, the Alphas do belong to a loose knit group, yet they don’t wear any sort of costume or uniform. I also like the fact that although they work in cooperation with the Defense Criminal Investigation Service of the U.S. Department of Defense, they are not officially affiliated with the government. This is reflected in the main character Dr. Lee Rosen, who seems to be a free-spirit scientist, whose hobbies include collecting classic rock on vinyl. Rosen, the tactical and spiritual leader of the Alphas, is not above using the abilities of his Alphas for good, but he is still very protective of them. As a neurologist and psychiatrist, Dr. Rosen is able to not only help the Alphas understand and use their abilities more affectively, but also treat their sometimes fragile emotions and mental states as well.
I like all of the five Alpha characters. Bill Harkin is the least likable of the five, but part of that is because as a former FBI agent, he still needs to be in control and seems to have trouble working with a group of untrained civilians. Gary Bell is the most likable and sympathetic character, but his ability and perceived handicap will restrict this character's physical involvement in future cases. Nina Theroux is the "babe" of the group, but what makes her interesting is her ability makes her able to control every aspect of her life and yet her cool detached exterior appears to be a cover for a deeper unhappiness. Cameron Hicks is interesting because of his complex past, which includes being a former army sniper and minor league baseball pitcher. Unfortunately, the writers have stuck him with the dramatic cliché of being a divorced Dad with an estranged son. Rachel Pirzad's abilities are the least believable but the most useful to the group. Fortunately, her abilities also make her the most vulnerable when she uses them; making her the most dependent on the group for protection.

Surprisingly, I really liked Alphas! I suspect the reason is that I have always liked SF that dealt with human beings that are able to use their minds to extraordinary ends. For me, this has always been the most realistic of science fictional rational for people with "superpowers" and that gives me hope that Alphas could be one “superhero” show that has the ability to last more than one season.